Friday, August 01, 2014
Regrets, I've Had a Few... But Would You Change Anything?
A couple of weeks ago I read two books that had just come out, by authors I’d read before and loved. The first was Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, he of Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series fame. Scott Pilgrim is a six-book series about a guy living in Toronto in his early 20s, battling the ex-boyfriends of the girl he wants to be with. Seconds is a one-off standalone novel about Katie, a girl living in what seems more like Southwestern Ontario (where O’Malley is originally from, and where I now live after moving here from Toronto a couple of years ago), in her 30s, at a certain point in her life where she’s questioning the decisions she’s made to get to this point. As anyone who is 40 or older can tell you, life seems to follow a certain expected trajectory: childhood, then choosing your future as a teenager, when you are insane and hormonal and should NEVER be making life decisions, but there it is. Your 20s are for getting a start in that life and shooting off in the direction you chose as the crazy teenager, your 30s are for moving up in whatever life direction you’ve chosen, and your 40s are to start sitting back and enjoying the ride, because you’ve made it to the top.
But see, often (not always, I should add), somewhere in your mid-30s, you realize maybe you’re not quite there. And a quick check into the future tells you you’re not going to get there. You’ve started changing. You’ve met new people, you’ve discovered new things, and suddenly that life trajectory that seemed perfect in your stupid teenage years isn’t so rosy anymore.
I didn’t have a single regret at age 34. At 40, I have several.
And that’s where Katie’s finding herself. She opened a fabulous restaurant with friends called Seconds, and it’s become THE hot spot in town. But she was the chef, not the owner, and over time many of the friends bailed, and the owner became distant, and she’s decided to set out on her own and buy a building downtown, near a bridge, and fix it up so it’ll become her new restaurant, called Katie’s. But the building is more decrepit than she thought it would be. And she can’t seem to stay away from hanging around Seconds. And then there’s that guy she was madly in love with whom she let go a few years ago, who keeps coming to the restaurant and making her regret her choices.
And then one night, an accident happens at the restaurant that she causes.
When she returns to her room, there’s a blonde girl sitting atop her dresser, hunched over like a little pixie, and gives her the opportunity to eat one mushroom, write down the one thing she wants to change on a pad of paper, and in the morning, poof... the accident no longer happened, and things are set aright. You can only do this once, she’s told. But... what if she did it just one more time?
Or, maybe... a few more times?
Seconds is a fabulous book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I adored the Scott Pilgrim series, but Seconds is more mature, and the illustrations are gorgeous.
The other book I picked up was Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I first discovered Rowell’s writing last year when I read Fangirl, and thought it was an excellent examination of fandom and the way fans feel around non-fans, people who think we spend too much time on the internet or blogging, and the argument about fan fic vs. original fiction. Rowell, who is one of the best fan fic writers on the interwebs, was clearly writing from experience, and I instantly felt a connection to her main character. And then I picked up Eleanor & Park, which is one of the most extraordinary YA novels I’ve ever read. Yes, I did my due diligence as a YA reader and also read The Fault in Our Stars right after, and yet E&P resonated with me so much more. It was beautiful, and real, and set around the very time I was experiencing my own first love, and we connected the same way Eleanor and Park do: through Smiths records.
Landline is the story of a woman who writes for television, and who gets her big break for the pilot she’s been shopping around with her colleague for years. The catch: she has to write the first four episodes before Christmas, which is 10 days away, and therefore she can’t go away to Omaha to see her husband’s family for Christmas. Her husband, tired of her putting work before family again, picks up the girls and takes them anyway, leaving her behind, and he refuses to answer his cellphone for days. Alone, confused, upset, regretful, and not sure what to do, she goes to her parents’ house, the same one she grew up in, and one night pulls out the old yellow rotary phone to call her husband. And... he picks up. But his father picks up first. The father who died a couple of years ago.
When she realizes this rotary phone is somehow a conduit into the past, she’s suddenly faced with a possibility: can she have discussions in the present that will affect her decisions in the past? Could she say or do something right now that will alter what happened before, and change the trajectory of her life?
I loved the book, and thought Rowell hit the emotions right on the head on every page. And I was equally surprised that the theme was so close to O’Malley’s book. Here I was picking up books from two authors I really enjoy reading, and both of them are tackling the same issue: getting to a certain point in our lives and questioning everything that came before. And, through magic realism, allowing their characters to explore the possibility of changing those decisions to see what might happen to them.
Like every reader will no doubt do, I closed both of these books wondering what I would change. I’m someone who tends to think things through five steps ahead of the present one (which is why I don’t take many risks, probably), and so every time I thought of something I might like to change, I traced the consequences of that action, and there was always a price to pay.
I wish I’d kept up this blog more, instead of letting people leave in a mass exodus because I was so exhausted when Lost ended that I just couldn’t keep up the pace after the final book came out. But if I’d kept focused on the blog, I wouldn’t have time to do the freelance work I do now, or read as many books, or spend time with my kids. I still write on here occasionally, and get a total of four comments (one of which is inevitably pointing out something big I missed in my rushed review), and that’s my new normal.
There’s the book writing opportunity I was offered four years ago that I turned down because I’d just finished the final Finding Lost book, and it turned out to be a much bigger opportunity than I would have guessed, which has devastated me. After years of working as a professional writer, this would have been the big time. And I blew it. But again, I would have spent the last four years travelling and being away from my family, and with so much upheaval here, I probably couldn’t have done that. I can deal with a missed opportunity, as hard as it’s been, but I couldn’t possibly deal with anything shaking up the strong family I have. Perhaps another opportunity will come, one that will allow me to stay put and still write.
So much has happened to me in the past four years — both very good and very bad — and when it’s all weighed, I’m a very happy person. I’m the first to say motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but I also see so many people around me without kids who are achieving great things because they don’t have to worry about anyone else (and my husband has definitely had an upward trajectory while I've kept the home fires burning), and I gave up my job and city to move to a smaller town so I could spend more time with my kids. I love them with all my heart, and think they’ll always be more important than any blog or book or job will ever be.
Sure, I still have that Marlon Brando moment like everyone else does at some point in their lives. I could have been somebody.
And then I became a mom. And suddenly I was no longer a somebody, and realized I never really would be. But, I’d be the most important somebody to two people. At least, for the next few years I will be. And I realize there are people out there at the top of their game, beloved and/or famous and/or extremely successful, and they have a dresser full of regrets, too. Just like in that BtVS episode "Earshot," everyone has their own problems and regrets, and no one's is more important than another's.
But if I had a yellow rotary phone, or a pixie sitting atop a dresser with a magic mushroom... who knows what I would wish to change in my past? Would I ever take that risk? Do I really want to, or, when all is said and done, is this the happiest and best outcome there could possibly be?
Would you do it?